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Home > News > Columnists > Ramananda Sengupta

The consequences of unilateral policing

May 19, 2003

'In the wake of September 11, India had offered its full-fledged support in fighting Islamic terrorism, whose hub, it was thought, lay in Pakistan. After Riyadh, it may start dealing with the United States in the same way other countries, Pakistan, for instance, or now Syria and Iran, do -- appearing to cooperate but in reality merely trying to avoid the rain of daisy-cutters.'

So concludes an article in Asia Times,  titled India: US daisy-cutters or olive branch?

The article essentially details India's problems in sending a force to police Iraq while the marines return stateside for some much needed R&R.

Sending such forces would apparently imply tacit approval of the American decision to 'liberate' Iraq. Not doing so would cause unnecessary friction with the Americans. It also talks about Indian misgivings over American intentions in the subcontinent.

But US daisy-cutters? Against India?

I had argued against the recent strike against Iraq on the grounds that it set a precedent, and that, in principle, the next victim could be Pakistan. Or you. Or anyone else that good Uncle Sam suspects of being able to jump up and bite him on the nose. Or somewhere lower.

But let's face it, India is neither Afghanistan nor Iraq. Nor is it Syria, Pakistan or Iran. It's a responsible, democratic nation with the second largest population in the world. And it's a nuclear power, remember? Sorry, make that a 'responsible' nuclear power, not prone to proliferation like its nuclear neighbours Pakistan and China. And the not-so-close North Korea.

Besides, isn't the Indo-US relationship growing in strength with every passing day? Look at the number of joint working groups that have sprung up since 9/11, covering everything from counter-terrorism to bilateral trade. Look at the reception accorded to National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra by George Bush, Jr, himself.

So what if we agree to disagree on Iraq? And on Pakistan? And Kashmir? And on certain 'dual-use' technology items which the Americans still don't obviously trust us with?

It doesn't take much to figure that it helps to have the world's sole superpower ostensibly on your side rather than against you.

Ostensibly because the state department firmly believes that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests. And the chief permanent interest is to ensure that no power can come close to rivalling the economic and military might of the United States.

If the rest of the world continues to jostle for regional power status, that's just fine with Uncle Sam. But God help you if you look beyond that.

Many readers have accused me of being anti-American. That is not the case. If India were a superpower, it might have done similar, if not worse, things to retain that title.

But this new American policy of unilaterally using force against nations 'suspected' of being hostile to its interests frightens me. What if that suspicion, like those about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, is later found to be false? What if these suspicions are planted, fomented, and fanned in American minds by vested foreign interests?

Enough has been said on the obvious double standards in this war against terrorism. Post-World War II, the Americans have launched several such 'wars'. Like that against Communism, which led to the witchhunts of McCarthy and to the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. The war to promote human rights, though certain nations which grant minimal political or civil rights to its citizens, like Saudi Arabia, still remain close American allies.

Now we have the war against terror. Part of this war involved raining bombs on Afghanistan, until the Taliban turned tail and ran. Did that end terror? Yes and no.

Afghanistan may not have turned into a democracy, and there are indeed doubts that it ever will, given that it has traditionally been ruled by various warlords who have divided the nation amongst themselves. Hardly fertile grounds for democracy.

But the Taliban, which had taken the nation back to mediaeval times in terms of barbarity and repression, is out of power. Daisy-cutters forced the religious army -- which had defied the US demand to hand over terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden -- to scamper across the border into Pakistan and haunt its former masters.

Does this mean the return of mini-skirts to Kabul? Not just yet.

Similarly, the mass graves now being unearthed at various sites are a grim reminder of the terror Saddam Hussein had unleashed on his own people (and Kuwaitis, during his brief occupation of that country). If Bush had cited that as a reason for attacking him instead of this weapons of mass destruction scare, perhaps he would not have been in such a sticky diplomatic position over Iraq. Perhaps.

As I've mentioned elsewhere, in neither of these cases were the primary objectives reached: the capture, or verified death, of either Osama or Saddam.

But in both cases, repressive regimes were ousted and there was hope, however faint, that democracy, American style, would somehow fill the vacuum.

Instead, terrorists have retaliated in the only way they know: the attacks in Riyadh, Chechnya, Morocco....

What do nations that do not have the ability to react to acts of terror on their soil the same way that the Americans can do? And how does one convince people in these nations that the American strikes against Iraq, against Afghanistan, had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on their soil? Will America hunt and prosecute the perpetuators of these acts with the same vengeance and zeal with which it has pursued Osama and now Saddam?

India has so far refrained from launching any attack on Pakistan not just because it fears a nuclear retaliation, though that must have figured among the reasons. (The threat of American daisy-cutters was unlikely to be among them.)

Not knowing where Islamabad's 'red line' (what would provoke a nuclear response -- a strike on terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir? A sneak attack on Lahore? A fighter plane straying into Pakistani airspace?) was surely cramped the Indian strategists. But one of the primary reasons why India has not responded is because it is well aware that any full-fledged war on the subcontinent would set it back at least a decade economically. And we are talking conventional war here.

Hence, despite the rising clamour to 'do something', Vajpayee and his colleagues have refrained from taking much warranted punitive action.

But Pakistan and America must understand that India too has a 'red line'.

Ramananda Sengupta

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